COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio doesn’t plan to mandate masks in schools this fall, but health officials strongly recommend students and staff wear face coverings if they aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, the state Department of Health’s chief medical officer said Monday.

That and other recommended steps are essential to protecting children and ensuring a successful school year as students return to classrooms, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

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Some of Ohio’s largest districts, including Columbus and Cleveland, already decided to require masks for everyone when the school year begins. Others are still navigating the complicated decision-making and polarization around mask rules as the delta variant spreads and cases rise.

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The health department is strongly urging school employees and eligible students age 12 and older to get vaccinated. That is the best protection, Vanderhoff said.

Health officials also are recommending schools continue additional measures that have proven helpful, such as keeping extra distance between people indoors, improving ventilation, sanitizing and encouraging good hand-washing.

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